Attention: All characters/settings/events are fictional and used in a fictional way. This story contains coarse language, mature subject matter, and sexual content. It is intended for mature audiences.
The frigid rooftop vent was hardly an ideal seat for a Sunday night beer-and-podcast session, but he wasn’t someone who shared humanity’s typical ideals. His earpiece was snug, the concrete was dry, and most importantly, he had a perfect view of the dingy alleyway – its coarse graffiti-splashed bricks and sludge-mottled floor, flickering in and out beneath unsteady yellow lights… he could see it all. That, to him, was quite ideal.
“Gooood evening folks, welcome to another episode of Urban Mysteries…”
He had set the podcast to play at a background volume. Loud enough to catch the important words… quiet enough to easily ignore.
“Today we’ll be talking about one of the newest additions to our city’s supernatural inhabitants... the Reaper.”
Leaning back against the icy surface of the vent, which impressively didn’t seem affected by his body warmth at all, he lifted his drink to lips. He didn’t understand how the chemical tang of alcohol was at all appealing, but it was very good at smothering the sour city smell.
“... Quite the strange case, reported on yesterday’s news. A suspect wanted for numerous charges of assault was finally taken into police custody after nearly two months without leads. But it wasn’t your typical arrest scenario, was it? Our guest today, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a reporter who has followed the police closely on this case. We’ll call him Mr. M. Thank you for joining us – could you tell us what’s so intriguing about this case?”
He’d been zoning out on one of the flickering lights, but as a deeper voice replaced the host’s lighthearted rambling, he distractedly tuned back in.
“Yes, thank you for having me. A lot of this was said on the news already, but the suspect was found unconscious in his own home. A neighbour was reportedly cleaning up after his dog in the suspect’s front yard at 9pm Tuesday night, when he saw the suspect fall down the stairs through a window’s blinds. He said he heard a cry and a thump, and then all the lights in the house went out. Worried that the man was hurt, he called 911. The man was found unconscious in his living room and transferred to the hospital, where he was later identified as the suspect.”
“Hmm...” He uttered a quiet, thoughtful sigh and swirled his canned drink idly over the edge of the building. It should be soon... any time, now...
“Quite the lucky accident indeed, isn’t it? You mentioned that you were able to glimpse the suspect at the hospital, Mr. M. Did he look like he’d simply fallen down the stairs?”
“Ah, well...” The guest speaker chuckled a little nervously. “It did, actually. The hospital says he only suffered minor bruising and a concussion. I spoke to the neighbour at the scene, too, and was told that he hadn’t seen anyone else in the house. The police said that it didn’t look like there had been any foul play, or break-ins to the building.”
“So could it be that this was really just a lucky accident?”
“You know, I’m tempted to say yes, but... there have been a few too many ‘lucky accidents’ lately, haven’t there?”
The lights died for a brief second, then flickered back on with their ghastly yellow glow. At the entrance of the alleyway, a long shadow had appeared, and he hastily stopped swirling his drink. As the shadow proceeded closer, someone wearing an old brown windbreaker and knit toque walked leisurely into sight.
“Very true, very true. That murder suspect who is on trial now, the one who killed his girlfriend, he was also taken into custody after someone found him unconscious on the street, right? Police said he’d fallen out of his own window, and that his wounds had been self-inflicted.”
“Yes, and there’s more, too. Those are only the publicized cases, where a civilian discovered the suspects. Apparently, police have been receiving an increased number of anonymous tips and video evidence of various crimes in the past year. They say it jokingly, but rumors are that there’s a vigilante in the city.”
The person with the toque looked comfortable as she strolled over to a dingy apartment door in the corner. She didn’t seem bothered that the outermost light had flickered off and wasn’t coming back – after all, it felt like was a miracle that any of these lights even worked in the first place.
“A vigilante... is that what you think, too, Mr. M?”
Quiet beeping interrupted the muffled silence as she typed in the door’s key code, followed by a red blink from the LED and a discouraging chime. Unperturbed, she tried again.
“No, definitely not. It’s impossible.”
The host sounded surprised. “Oh...?”
“Think about it. It’s 2028. Technology has evolved so quickly that there isn’t a speck of the city that’s not under surveillance. Dash cams, door cams, phones, satellites – some places even have thermal detection where video isn’t ethical. If this is the work of a vigilante, they would have been seen by now. But there hasn’t been a single trace of them. In all cases, all confirmed footage show that the suspects were completely alone.”
“Is that where the Reaper comes in? What is a Reaper, Mr. M?”
He saw a red LED flash for the eight time, and this time the woman’s frustrated curse muffled the negative beep. She reached into her windbreaker and took out her phone, but after a moment of pressing the dark screen, cursed again.
One of the two remaining lights flickered and then faded. The woman glanced at the lengthening shadows and grumbled irritably.
“What the fuck, why is nothing working...”
“Right... nobody knows what the Reaper really is, actually. It showed up about two years ago when a cyber group began claiming that the government had created a supernatural vigilante to govern the masses.” The guest lowered his voice into suspenseful murmur. “It has never been seen, but there have been cases of criminals claiming that their injuries had been inflicted by someone who never appeared in any surveillance footage...”
“So do you think this Reaper has come here, to our city...?”
The woman struggled with her phone for a while longer, then turned back to the key code and tried one more time. As the red LED appeared in the darkness, she cursed and turned away.
He straightened and pushed the podcast into the background for a moment. His drink was empty now, and there was nothing to shield him from the sourness of the alley – but it was alright. He wanted to be fully aware of everything that was about to happen.
Oblivious in her fury, the woman stomped blindly back the way she had come. As soon as her boots sank into the shadows, the last yellow light vanished and plunged the entire alleyway into complete darkness.
He counted the seconds as they passed. One... he heard a faint scuffle. Two... followed by a muffled thump. Three... silence. Four... a quiet voice.
He closed his eyes and tuned his conscience to the electrical wavelengths below. In his head, a smooth female voice replied.
<Target – identified. Status – identified. Vitals – confirmed. Mission complete.>
The innermost light fluttered back, and despite himself he had to squint against the sudden glow. The woman from earlier was lying unconscious on the mottled ground, alone, still holding her phone to her chest. One by one, the other lights began to return, flooding the entire alleyway with bright yellow light for a moment before they began to flicker again.
He stared at the barren alleyway in deep thought, his empty can of drink feeling light and hollow in his hand. Distantly, voices from the podcast echoed at the edges of his conscience.
“Should we be worried about the Reaper, Mr. M?”
“Oh, I don’t know, as long as you’re not guilty of anything, it should be fine, right?” There was a hoarse, grim laugh.
“But if you’re thinking of doing anything bad... I would watch out.”